Monday, September 4, 2017

Learning to Crochet - I

I have spent the last few months learning to crochet and decided to chronicle my journey in the hope of helping a fellow newbie. I have prepared a six part post documenting my learning curve so that it may make someone else's journey a tad bit easier.

Having never held a crochet needle before I kept seeing granny square afghans on Instagram and it really peaked my curiosity. I could not wrap my head around the technique. How do you get one continuous piece of yarn to make shapes? I had also looked at a lot of Amigurumi items on Pinterest and was fascinated by the process. I have a cousin who is a master at crochet and she keeps making one thing after another and sending me pictures. I had to give it a try.

Just around that time I saw a destash sale by Erin at pipersgirls on Instagram for a pack of Clover crochet hook set and snatched it up.
Crochet Hook Set

I had some scrap wool laying around from my tapestry phase and started making tiny swatches. The best resource to learn all the different crochet stitches was YouTube. It is amazing how many good tutorials are out there.

I am going to go through a few things in detail before I continue recanting my crochet journey. These are things that I discovered along the way.


Crochet does not require many tools. Just a few crochet needles based on the yarn thickness, a big eye tapestry needle (blunt tip) to bury the ends and a pair of snips. Once you get a little advanced perhaps a few stitch markers. So far I really haven't needed anything else.

Stitch Markers

Blunt Tapestry Needles

You can get plain aluminium crochet hooks, which are a fraction of the price. However I prefer the ergonomics of a padded handle. Crochet requires repetitive hand movements and it can wear you down easily. It is essential you take a break every 10 to 20 minutes, else stiff shoulders and neck are a surety.

Plain Crochet Hooks

Some of my favorite are handcrafted crochet hooks made of artisanal wood from BQueen Collection. Driftwood crochet hooks from Lykke. The choices are endless. You can get as fancy as you want but perhaps you want to ensure you will stick to this hobby before going all in.

Another point to note is the finish on the hooks. There are ones with matte finish and others with shiny chrome finish. Apparently the shiny chrome finish is too slippery for certain types of yarn whereas matte works with all yarn. I have yet to experience slippery yarn phenomenon but then I do have hooks with a matte finish.

This is pretty much all you need in terms of notions.

Next we talk about yarn.


This is probably the most confusing part of the process. Selecting your yarn.

Most yarns are made of either acrylic or natural fibers. I have seen a few that are a hybrid of both.

Acrylic yarn is a lot cheaper in price and more readily available in big box stores. Not recommended for at home dyeing.

Natural yarn includes everything from wool, linen, cotton, silk, jute, etc. A lot of natural yarns are a blend of two or more materials. Natural yarns can get pricey very quickly but they are a sheer joy to work with. They breathe well and your hands don't get sweaty. There are a ton of artisanal natural yarn choices. It is very hard to resist. They are also good for custom dyeing. Naturally dyed yarn is my favorite. This is a topic by itself which I will cover later.

Then you have specialty yarn like nylon, mainly used for macrame. Metallic yarn mostly used for crocheted bags. Recycled T-shirt yarn, recycled denim yarn, etc. The list goes on. Wool roving, extra bulky yarn that require large custom hooks or used in arm knitting. Ohhio is a great little shop that stocks extra bulky yarn.

Yarn weight:

This is the most important thing to know about yarn. Yarn comes in different weights. The major categorization is:
  • Extra bulky
  • Bulky or Chunky
  • Aran or Worsted
  • DK or Light Worsted
  • Sport
  • Fingering or Sock
  • Lace

DK or Light Worsted is the most commonly used weight. As a beginner I would recommend using Aran weight yarn as the stitches appear more distinct and easier to count. I would also recommend using lighter colors as it makes it easier to see if you skip or add stitches. Do not use black, dark blue or dark gray for your first project. It makes it very hard to inspect the quality of the stitches, with a lighter shade it is easier to spot missteps.

The hook size you use depends on the weight of the yarn. Most yarns will tell you on the label which hook size to use. Usually they mention a range. For example for Aran weight yarn they recommend 4.5mm - 5.5mm hook. The size you want to use depends on the overall look you are going for. 5.5mm hook will give a more loose weave whereas the 4.5mm will give a tighter weave.

Recommended hook size 4.0mm - 4.5mm
Super wash wool - will hold up to washing
can be washed in washing machine at warm or cold temp.

Recommended hook size 3mm
Can be washed in washing machine using cold water, lay flat to dry only

We will talk about yarn tension in a bit but you can vary the hook size to counter the tension with which you crochet. If you find that you tend to crochet with a tighter tension use a bigger hook or if you tend to take looser stitches use a thinner hook to even out the look. You don't want very loose stitches nor you want stitches that are very tight.

Wool or acrylic is a bit stretchy so it is more forgiving in terms of tension whereas cotton or linen is less forgiving. 

Also when picking yarn there are high twist and low twist yarns. Low twist yarns have a softer feel but tend to split easily and are a lot harder to work with as a beginner. I would definitely recommend using a twisted yarn, especially when using cotton or linen.

Yarn is also differentiated by how easy or difficult it is to maintain. Arcylic is quite easy. Can be washed in a washing machine and dried on a gentle cycle. You can also lay flat to dry. There is no fear of moths getting to it.

Natural yarn can vary. Some woolen yarn is specially treated and is described as superwash, which means it will hold up to multiple washes. Most of them however must be washed in cold water.  Warm or hot water felts the wool. Some finer yarn like Cashmere, etc. can only be dry-cleaned. So please look at the washing instructions and pick the appropriate yarn for the project at hand. You also have to protect the final product from moths and silver fish.

If you buy yarn from a big box store most of them are already wound in a ball and you can start using them immediately. However if you happen to get a hank or a skein of yarn you will need to roll it into a ball. If you buy from your local yarn store they will have a ball winder and do that at no cost. You have to ask. Else, you might need to get home and do it yourself.

At this point you have a set of crochet hooks and a ball of Aran weight yarn in a light color. That is pretty much all that your need to get started. Next we will talk about the most common crochet stitches.

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